Religious tolerance

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I went to the public library one day to see how the local newspapers reported the candidacy of Catholic Alfred E. Smith for the presidency in 1928. Reading these reports, my reactions shifted from anger to nausea to disbelief.

Well, that was 1928, I thought. So I then went to the fall of 1960 when Catholic John F. Kennedy was running, thinking that with all the years separating these two events, along with the common cause formed in America in the Second World War, the emerging process of human rights for African-Americans, television, mobility and everything else, anti-Catholicism would have been little in 1960 with 1928 in sight.

Frankly, it was just as bad.

This is fact. Anti-Catholicism has been warp and woof of American society since the beginning of the 13 British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America, excepting Maryland, of course, founded as a sanctuary for persecuted English Catholics, but then anti-Catholic prejudice took hold there as well.

This is another fact. Many Catholic Americans today do not know the past. Others, who have read history, whitewash everything by saying that times have changed. It is not 1928. It is not 1960. Anyway, John Kennedy was elected. Presently, the vice president of the United States and the speaker of the House of Representatives both are Catholics. So are six justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, along with dozens of members of Congress.

Any thinking American knows how ridiculous it would be to say that professing the Catholic religion somehow renders suspect a candidate for, or the holder of, public office or any other responsibility for that matter.

We Catholics feel that we are home free. It is clear that others are not as fortunate. Set the Catholic experience aside, whether our place is as secure as we want it to be, or not. Any Jewish American knows about anti-Semitism in this country.

Now, it is the Muslims.

In the 1920s, Ireland was in turmoil. The effort to be rid of British control was overwhelming, but the process to achieve this aim was disputed among the Irish. Violence was no stranger to the Emerald Isle, not even after the British withdrew and Irish independence came.

At the time, some American voices were raised demanding that immigration from Ireland to this country be restricted on the grounds that thugs and malcontents might come.

Did the Irish-Americans howl? (Hooray for them.) They were numerous enough, holding enough votes in their hands, if not pots of gold, that the politicians had to pause. In many places, politicians knew if they insulted the Irish, then they would be out of politics and checking the want ads.

The point is not that the United States should not be a haven for the treacherous, but that Americans should not hysterically paint every foreigner, more specifically every Muslim, with the brush that they — justifiably — paint the terrorists and the murderers as threats.

The great majority of the most horrific shooting incidents in this country have been perpetrated not by immigrants, illegal or otherwise, or for that matter by Muslims, but by native-born, Caucasian-Americans, many of them at least with a Christian background.

Newtown. Aurora. Columbine. Not a Muslim in sight — or an immigrant. The criminals in these fearful incidents were home-grown Anglo-Saxon Americans.

We must address, and try to resolve, the problems of terrorism and violence, but we cannot abandon our sanity in the process. If anyone should know this, it should be Catholic Americans.

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.